YFD Chief: Fires create vacant-house cycle

Firefighters in Youngstown, Ohio battled a string of fires overnight.
A vacant house fire at 129 East Ellenwood in Youngstown. Aug. 14, 2015

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Youngstown firefighters were busy all night Thursday and into the morning hours Friday battling three vacant house fires in the city.

It is possible that all three vacant house fires were acts of arson, according to Youngstown Fire Chief John O’Neill. O’Neill said that one firefighter suffered a twisted ankle and another was cut by glass, at two different locations.

  • At 9:25 p.m., firefighters got a call about 173 Byron Avenue. A neighbor said he was cooking food when he heard the house next door explode into flames.
  • At 10:12 p.m., YFD got a call about a blaze at 129 East Ellenwood Avenue. A neighbor said she was talking to a friend outside when the windows of the house suddenly exploded. Police were at that address last week when it was hit by gunfire.
  • At 10:30, someone called the fire department about flames at a house on 44 West Marion Avenue. A neighboring home was occupied with this fire. The Youngstown Fire Department successfully kept flames from spreading. Battalion Chief Jim Drummond tells WKBN that fire was “reset” later in the night. He says one fire was started at the front of the house and the other at the rear, leading firefighters to believe that someone or something else caused a new fire to start.

When the fire started back up at the house on West Marion, it was closer to a home next door, which had someone living in it.

“It really came close to catching the occupied house next door on fire,” O’Neill said. “So I think what people don’t take into account, bad people who light fires, is how far is it going to go and how fast.”

Firefighters managed to keep that home from catching fire. But Chief O’Neill says this is part of a much bigger problem with vacant homes.

“There’s so many of them throughout the city. There’s thousands of them. You just can’t get them knocked down fast enough to stop this from happening,” O’Neill said.

Plus, vacant homes can affect other properties. If a homeowner doesn’t have insurance on a house, and it gets damaged by a fire, they may be forced to leave that home, creating another vacant property.

For now, crews will focus on finding the cause of these fires and, if they determine they were arson, who set them.

O’Neill says if neighbors saw someone around any of the homes last night about the time the fires started, they can call police at 330-742-8900.

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